Narrow Victories—Or Defeats

How can we increase the number of evangelicals who will vote this fall? First, we can reject the argument that our own small vote is insignificant. The fact is, elections are often tipped by a feather’s weight. In 1976, 8,000 votes cast in Ohio and Hawaii could have swung the presidential election from Carter to Ford. One statistician surmised that if only half of the unregistered evangelical voters in the United States had registered and voted, they could have reversed every presidential election in the last 100 years. Thousands of local and state elections are won or lost every year by a mere handful of votes. Every two years good congressmen go down to defeat and rascals win out by a vote so small that the members of one evangelical church in their district could have made the difference and placed an honest and effective representative or senator in Washington. No American can excuse himself on the ground that his vote does not count.

We must reject the cynical excuse that politics is so corrupt that elected offials pay no attention to voter—sespecially to evangelicals. Such a view says that justice, therefore, will be flouted no matter what we do.

But public leaders are a mixed bag—some good, some bad, and all human, mirroring the voters who chose them. Also, powerful, selfish lobbies have an immense influence on the way our legislators vote.

But the inference that we can do nothing about the matter, is false. Our political leaders are as bad a mix as they are because good people like the readers of CHRISTIANITY TODAY did not take the trouble to inform themselves about the candidates and then vote accordingly. Consequently God will hold us, as well as our elected politicians, responsible for their bad votes.

It is true that politicians have tended to ignore evangelical voters (who make up 20 to 30 percent of the total population). By right, they should have a powerful voice in our government.

Why then, do they not? One politician put it bluntly: “We can vote as we please without losing the support of the evangelical vote because (1) Evangelicals don’t vote! They aren’t even registered to vote. (2) Evangelicals don’t know who voted for what, so they can’t possibly punish any legislator for not taking their wishes seriously. And (3) even if they do know how we voted, and disapprove of our votes, they aren’t deeply enough committed to do anything about it.” So the politicians have tended to ignore evangelical wishes.

Yet evangelicals have the most powerful persuader that any politician knows. We mark ballots! And politicians have to listen to that. After the California legislature passed a law making it illegal for any employer to refuse to hire a person on the grounds that he was a homosexual, Arthur Agnos, the legislator who had initiated the Gay Rights Bill, warned his supporters against retribution from the “religious right wing.” He followed the warning with this overall conclusion: “Should they succeed in defeating any of the elected officials who supported us, we can forget furthering the rights of lesbians and gay men for many, many years to come. One such defeat would be nothing less than a disaster warning flag to any legislator.” Christians should take heed.

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A Matter Of Conscience

At a more fundamental level, most evangelicals know that it is their duty to vote at election time. Far fewer realize how responsible they are for the kind of government they have. But the two are tightly related. In a democracy where people choose their government, they become responsible for what it does. Its right or wrong actions are theirs as well. When things go wrong in the American government, therefore, we really ought not blame the government but the people. And if we did not vote, or voted stupidly, we should blame ourselves.

Why, basically, do so few evangelicals vote? Primarily because we just do not bother. We know a blind vote based on no information about issues or candidates is a wasted vote, and we are simply unwilling to get the facts.

In a democracy like America, however, every Christian citizen should consider it his moral duty—duty to God and to his fellow citizens—to become an informed voter. The Bible says God holds rulers responsible for their decisions. But in a democratic nation like ours, we are the rulers. Hence God holds us responsible for evil laws and injustice. Christians must recognize that it is not merely a privilege to live in a democratic land that guarantees our personal freedoms and preserves a measure of justice. It is our Christian duty to exert ourselves to maintain these freedoms and to broaden just rule. To fail here displays an ingratitude for our heritage, and leaves us condemned by a God of righteousness.

Send Off A Letter

Moreover, we must not assume that we have done our duty merely by voting. Selfish legislative lobbies must be counteracted by lobbies working in the national interest. We need to support evangelical agencies that engage in a legitimate and honest sort of lobbying. Our most effective instrument, however, is the phone call or letter by which we can communicate with officials directly. In most cases, to be sure, a congressman will be too busy to read such letters himself. But do not doubt that your letter will get read by a staff member who will carefully compile opinions. He will report to the congressman the number and tenor of the letters received, and this will greatly influence his or her vote. Very rarely do congressmen vote directly against the clearly registered majority of their constituents. They have their eyes on the next election. But government officials will not listen to evangelicals unless they phone or write.

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When To Act

Unfortunately, election day can be too late to decide that you ought to vote. Perhaps there is still time in your state to register for a national election; check it out. Almost certainly you will have time to register for local elections. But since you cannot register at the last minute, now is the time to act.

And evangelicals should encourage other like-minded citizens to vote. Often those with selfish interests, harmful to the nation, are most eager to encourage other citizens to register and vote. Write for a brochure, “Voter Registration—A Guide for Evangelicals.” This pamphlet can be obtained free from the Office of Public Affairs, National Association of Evangelicals, Washington, D.C. 20500. If you write now, there is still time to act. You could determine the next decade’s direction for your local government, or, for that matter, for your state or national government.

A Summary Of Actions

What then shall the evangelical do? (1) Register now and vote on election day. (2) Now, while Christians have time to act, preach (or teach a Sunday school class) about the duty to vote. (3) Encourage fellow evangelicals to register and vote. (4) Invite several highly respected evangelicals to join you in forming a committee. Let each one agree to investigate the character, reputation, speeches, and voting records of one or two candidates. Post the results in conspicuous spots or, if possible, pay to run them in your local newspaper.

(5) Remind evangelicals that in a democracy, they are the rulers; and the Bible judges rulers harshly if they fail to enact good laws, secure the welfare of the common people, administer with fairness and justice, and rule in righteousness.


How can I find out how my congressman voted?
Send NAE, 1430 K Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20005, a self-addressed business-size envelope with 37ȼ postage for a 15-page study of “Key Voices” from the Congressional Quarterly.
How do I write government officials?
Address: The President, The White House, Washington, D.C. 20500: Dear Mr. President. For Congress, The Honorable (full name), Washington, D.C. 20010: Dear Senator (last name). Or if to a Representative, 20015: Dear Mr. (last name).
Write courteously, clearly, on one page only, and refer to a specific piece of legislation by name and number.

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